In what has to be one of the most bizarre red carpet scenarios in many a moon, the Berlinale is bracing for the buzz storm surrounding the world premiere of THE GHOST WRITER, the latest film from director Roman Polanski. And while the stars of the film, Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan will officiously walk the red carpet at the Berlinale Palast this evening, the film’s celebrated director remains under house arrest in his ski villa in Switzerland.
Of course, this is not the first time that a film’s director could not come to Berlin to celebrate the premiere of his/her film. However, it may be the first time that a director was barred from leaving his house under threat of arrest if he was to decide to make a quick getaway to the Festival festivities. One can only imagine the mix of emotions that is coursing through the veins of Monsieur Polanski, as he awaits word on whether he will be forcibly extradited to the United States to be charged with evading incarceration for his admitted statutory rape of a 15-year-old in Los Angeles over 30 years ago.
While Polanski became synonymous with the “dark side” of Hollywood, both for the rape conviction and the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate in 1969 by the cultish Manson Family, the director’s reputation has undergone a marked improvement in recent years, following his triumphant win of a Best Director Oscar for the 2002 Holocaust drama THE PIANIST. The film reminded the public of Polanski’s own traumatic childhood as a Holocaust survivor whose mother died in Auschwitz.
There is a real danger that THE GHOST WRITER will be overshadowed by its own offstage drama in Berlin, where Polanski will, of course, be conspicuous by his absence. Dieter Kosslick, the Berlinale director, lobbied publicly for Polanski’s release, joining a celebrity roster that includes Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Whoopi Goldberg, Tilda Swinton, Chris Rock, Pedro Almodóvar and Monica Bellucci. Even the victim in the case, Samantha Geimer, publicly forgave the veteran director after he came to a private financial settlement with her in 1993. However, after decades of apparent disinterest while Polanski never strayed far from his Paris home, it seems the California justice system has finally decided to go after Polanski with a vengeance.
THE GHOST WRITER is adapted by the best-selling author Robert Harris from his own 2007 novel. Harris is a former political journalist and who fell out bitterly with the British government, mainly over his support for US and Israeli military action. In the film, Ewan McGrgor stars as a hack biographer hired by a suave but secretive British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan channeling Tony Blair) who is struggling to finish his memoirs in US exile while facing possible extradition back to Europe on war crimes charges. This timely theme was given an unexpected publicity boost last week when the real Blair made his defiant appearance at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war in London.
THE GHOST WRITER, which is already receiving superb reviews from the trade publications who have apparently seen an advanced copy of the film, might have a similarly positive effect on Polanski’s public image. However, if fate goes against him, this could conceivably prove to be Polanski’s final film.